Karen would often think about the consequences of a scar on her face. Of course, she would never intentionally hurt herself, but the thought would definitely run through her head. Even the slightest mark on her cheek could mean being replaced; her agent might leave her for being, in his mind, so reckless; she might be judged horribly among her fellow contemporaries as someone who couldn’t deal with the pressure. But what if she were to be affected by something that was completely outside of her control? Accidents happen all the time, even to someone as lucky as Karen had been. Too bad, they’d say.
4 a.m. wasn’t an unusual wake up call for Karen; many companies would require her to get up as early as possible just so the photographer could shoot during the morning’s golden hour. When Karen was starting out, she’d occasionally ask the production coordinator if they could schedule the shoot for the sunset as it’d be much nicer and easier on everyone; but every time she was shut down with some form of laughter, encouraging her to find the reason behind their reactions. It didn’t dawn on her the level of skill, nor the amount of experience, required for a simple shoot – not to say that Karen only believed photography was as simple as pointing a camera and pressing a button; she realized there were different styles of lighting, camera exposure, various color combinations, among the many factors that contributed to a well-shot photograph – and that to accommodate for all of these variables the production team needed as much time and flexibility as possible in case delays were made, which was almost always the case, suggesting that a morning shoot was their only option. Karen learnt her lesson and even continued to grow her curiosity for photography for a short while, taking her own photos with the little spare time she had. But that didn’t mean her alarm was getting any kinder.
Today’s set was also going to be quite uncomfortable, realizing that Koch was going to be there. Karen remembers her first casting session with Koch, standing quietly in a pallid room, with other nervous dreamers in lingerie and a few spotlights to give the room some life, as he sat behind his fold-out table, wearing a perfectly fitted buttoned-down white shirt, under a fresh skinny suit in navy linen mix, with a pair of oak colored dress shoes to complement the thin belt that fitted his waist. One by one, Koch criticized the women for the smallest of details, easily lashing out over what he deemed as a lack of natural talent when, really, none of them matched his ideal form, his perfect vision of what a woman is. It simply made no sense to Karen that there was some ideal form of beauty, understanding that everything in life came down to a matter of perspective; but that was the business she was in. When it was Karen’s turn she felt as if all of her preparation had escaped her, having been psyched out by Koch’s previous assessments; and at first glance, Koch was already disgusted, staring back at her with much animosity, biting down on his back teeth, clenching and releasing his right hand repeatedly as if he was squeezing a stress ball, only to eventually, after much judgment, share his opinion, telling Karen that if she were to succeed in this business she would have to “lose the belly fat”. Karen was virtually a stick at that point. But what was she to do? If she hadn’t have lost the weight who knows where she would have ended up; quite possibly hidden away, behind a desk, working a job that didn’t allow her to express her creative urges, the unexamined life. This moment became the first of many instances where Karen bowed her head and copped the verbal assault that was handed to her, figuring that as she advanced in the industry she’d be given more leeway and thus, wouldn’t have to deal with bullies like Koch. But so far that hadn’t happened. In fact, it felt as if she hadn’t even moved. A part of Karen believed that things would change soon, but another part of her believed that she wouldn’t reach her dreams; that’s the conflict when one does not feel progress.
After the initial rush of applying makeup, fitting clothes, warming up, stretching, generating the necessary vibe, Karen was still the same. Usually, after the transformation, Karen would realize herself as her own illusion, much like how the rest of the world saw her, an advertisement to ogle over, but this time that wasn’t the case; she observed that no change to her appearance could alter the torpor she felt that day. Standing under the light, she pretended, with as much energy as her mood would provide for her, to be desirable, friendly, mysterious, fun, everything any straight man would want in a woman, only to be none of those things; everyone could see right through her. Frustration began to set into the photographer, only half-heartedly attempting to find the right angle; the energy was dying. Koch, leaning against a table, at the back of the room, stepped forward, on the verge of interrupting the entire set, as Karen tried to compose herself, feeling the judgment, not only from Koch but from every pair of eyes. After some small words of encouragement from the photographer, they began again, attempting to make a fresh start. At first, Karen was able to provide some light, finally wearing a smile; but as the photographer wanted more from her, Karen’s disposition started to weigh down on her, snapping out of the aura that the lifestyle created, ruminating on the effort-to-reward ratio, feeling the tension in her shoulders and neck, reducing the wrinkles around the corners of her eyes; the room could sense the friction within her. Karen couldn’t be their prop, their puppet today; and pushing the table back, Koch steamed ahead, shouting at Karen to get her act together, causing her to freeze up. Even though the barrage that Koch gave Karen might have seemed to be the thing that she needed to be whipped into shape, this hadn’t previously worked for her and it was at this moment that she realized that Koch wasn’t what he had seemed to be, that he could stand tall and parade himself as if he were above everyone, but couldn’t cast her appropriately, nor help her during a difficult situation, influencing Karen to say the one word she had never said to Koch: “no!”.
The backlash wasn’t as horrible as Karen had expected. Sure, there were a few harsh words directed to her from some of her more competitive colleagues and her agent did disown her, but the general consensus was one of compassion, being given hugs, kind gestures, blown kisses, apologies, even though they didn’t do anything to cause her leave.
But what was Karen to do? Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t given the luxury to plan her exit, nor did she have much time to find an alternate route. At this point, Karen had about enough savings to last her around six months, maybe seven months if she cut back on expenses. But even with the time that she had, there was a lot of doubt as to whether another agency would hire her as her reputation had been tarnished by a single instant. How is it fair that Karen should be judged for a moment in her life? Sure, from one side of it, she stood up against the established authority, rebelling against the ones in charge, stepping out of place, but from the other side of it, she had a right to speak her mind, to defend herself. Why shouldn’t she have been allowed to speak up in that moment? Is it only because she was supposed to play the role of the subservient? That’s not fair, that’s not just. We should all have an equal right to speak and an equal opportunity to do so, whether you’re male, female, no matter a person’s income, regardless of their age, race, sexual preferences, religious beliefs, scientific beliefs, philosophical beliefs; we’re all human. It was then that Karen decided to take action.
The first step was to realize what was the best method to voice her new insight and represent this idea. It wasn’t easy; blatantly telling people how she felt could open her up to criticism and she didn’t want to go through that again. Karen needed to find another way to express herself; so she began to write. Writing was the easiest form of expression, all one has to have is a pen and paper and it has the potential to move anyone, but writing wasn’t one of Karen’s strong suits, she could merely write down her ideas, communicating them was another challenge altogether. However, this was a start, at least Karen could see the words staring back at her, they weren’t just thoughts swimming around in her head. She could evaluate her thoughts and rearrange the words so that they made sense to her. But still, what was Karen to do?
A week simply slipped by, stressing over her dilemma, reaching the stage where she was beginning to worry about her worrying; this is no place anyone wants to be, Karen thought to herself at one point; her mind, and therefore her life, was becoming clouded, a huge mesh of problems toppling over each other; she couldn’t go back to her old life where she was not wanted; and even if she had figured out what she wanted to say she hadn’t realized how to say what it was she wanted to say. She reached a point where she felt as if she had no choice but to do something, anything that could bring about some change; she couldn’t keep living like this. Karen gathered all the words she had written down, her thoughts, her ideas over the past couple of weeks and ran her eyes over everything, in hope that inspiration might strike. But nothing came. She couldn’t realize the best way to express her feelings. She was disappointed with herself.
Karen was at her lowest low, not only working a steady, soulless job but also because she couldn’t find her answers. Life was now a slow, evenly paced rhythm, with the smallest of peaks and the slightest of troughs, carefully approaching the final release – into oblivion. Surely, there would have been nothing to lose. What did Karen have? Nothing of value could come to mind. She did have friends and family, but when it came to her career she couldn’t think of anything. It started to dawn on her that there was nothing to lose, that she could do almost anything and her circumstances would be immediately better, causing her to think more deeply about her situation. It was then in that moment that a good, strong question finally ran through Karen’s head, an epiphany, ‘If you could fail at doing something that you don’t want to do, then why not take a chance on something that you do want to do?’. At first, Karen did come up with a few excuses, but she understood that they were simply excuses and that she had no reason not to take a risk. She had to commit herself.
This didn’t mean that her life would change overnight, Karen was still working the same dull job; but during her free time, Karen would focus on trying to get herself out of her situation, even if it meant she’d exhaust herself, rummaging through ideas, concepts, notions, on how she could help people. It had become clear to Karen that this was her aim, to help people; as much as she wanted things to go her way, she didn’t want to be like Koch or any of the other egos that she was surrounded by; she was determined not to let herself stoop to their level; others had to come first. But there was still the matter of ‘how?’. Maybe it wasn’t about being creative ‘cause the difficulty with creativity, with art, is that it’s too elusive; an artist can’t directly tell a viewer of their piece what to do, their interpretation of the art has to be their own, personal exploration and not something that is seemingly concrete. But if she were to be direct, then would that be enough to get people to reflect on and discuss these topics? Maybe, maybe not; Karen would have preferred to marry the two in some way, to create something that could express her ideas directly. What helped to some degree was that the ideas that she had written down were forms of expression, even though most of the ideas were pretty direct; she could gather the ideas and rehash them so that it could at least make sense to someone else and then share it with the world as one long piece. But something didn’t sit right with her on this strategy; maybe it was because she was afraid, maybe because she didn’t think she could create depth and therefore any sort of meaning for the reader, maybe it had to do with a combination of different reasons she hadn’t fully realized yet; she couldn’t figure it out, but she was uncomfortable, uncomfortable enough to deter her from moving in that particular direction, again, listening to her intuition. And so, if she wasn’t willing to write the single piece then “why not say it?” was a thought that slipped through her mind, put some emotion behind the way she felt, give her ideas some gravitas. She could create a persona, much like in her old life, except this character would be free to express and share instead of containing, nullifying her emotions to become an object, a persona that she’d be proud of; she could do that. It did seem silly to create a character that had all of the qualities that she felt that she didn’t have, but then again, what did she have to lose? Yes, anyone could have asked of her the same question, ‘what did Karen have to lose?’ when it came to writing her ideas into a single piece, but this time around she felt more comfortable doing something that she was more familiar with, that was more her, more her character, her style; her intuition was starting to whisper louder. Like most characters, there was the backstory to inform their qualities, their mannerisms, slowly forming, shaping an identity, there were so many variables to contemplate. But this didn’t stop Karen and in due time she created a persona she could fit into, that she could relate to but wasn’t her at the same time. And through this new mask, she began to rearrange her initial ideas, speaking out loud to herself, maybe even being a bit foolish, while also feeling transcended, creating this rhythm, this beat to her speech; without even realizing it, she was beginning to recite poetry, at least a speech that she personally would describe as poetic, and for the first time in what felt like forever, Karen started to feel the fire; she had been reborn; she had found her bliss.
It wasn’t easy. There were long days where she felt distant from everyone and anything, where she felt unimportant, insignificant, days where she had to push through, to will herself to do the work. But she didn’t complain, it was hard at times, but she didn’t complain once. Karen was drawn to this path, going in her direction, continuing to hustle until each task was completed, growing into the life that she was creating, creating meaning in her life through the actions she took after her lowest low. These were the lessons Karen was grateful to have realized, for not everyone realizes these lessons about themselves and that they too can create their path no matter how low their situation is; no matter how bad the fall, there’s always the potential to pick yourself up.
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And finally, thank you so much for taking the time to read my short story. I feel so grateful to get to do what I do and it’s thanks to you for taking an interest in the content I create. So again, thank you.